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Scholars in Quest to Reveal the True Sir Walter Scott

Scholars in Quest to Reveal the True Sir Walter Scott

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Published by KAW

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Published by: KAW on Jul 10, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Scholars in quest to reveal the true Scott
Project finds thousands of errors in printed works
BRIAN DONNELLYThe Herald; Sep 4, 2003
IT has lain in a Russian museum for almost a century, holding its secretsdeep within its pages.Now experts hope that an original manuscript will act as a talisman for themand unlock the “real” writings of Sir Walter Scott.The mistakes made by printers as they rushed Scott’s books to sale in theearly nineteenth century have hindered the understanding of Scott’s originalwritings.Often the confusion was caused by Scott’s own abysmal handwriting andlack of punctuation combining with the tight printing deadlines. This meantthat under-pressure, printers had to improvise, often simply making up whatthey thought Scott meant.This led to thousands of mistakes appearing in his books during thetransition to print.Experts are now painstakingly studying Scott’s original manuscript of TheTalisman, on loan to the National Library of Scotland from the Russian StateMuseum in Moscow, in an effort to rewrite the book in the way theauthor initially intended.James Ballantyne and Company of Edinburgh, the printers in which Scottowned a 50% stake, often ignored detailed instructions by the author asthey strove to get the books to sale.Many of the later editions from his lifetime are also far removed from theoriginal because Scott himself regularly edited and re-edited his books.Despite the printers’ efforts and the books selling well, the firm wentbankrupt during a financial crisis that swamped Scotland in 1825, and whileScott paid off the debt and lived well, he never fully recovered from the lossand died penniless.Led by Edinburgh University, underpinned by the Scott resources at theNational Library and connecting expert editors across the world, the project
is part of a wider plan to bring all of Scott’s “lost” works into print for thefirst time.Professor David Hewitt of Aberdeen University, editor-in-chief of the project,said the Talisman manuscript, which is being edited by John Ellis, a retiredEdinburgh University lecturer, marked a significant step forward.He said: “Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of mistakes were made:misreadings, misunderstandings of period or specialised terms. Our aim nowis to recover the lost Scott, the Scott which was misunderstood as theprinters struggled to set and print the novels at high speed and often indifficult circumstances.” Professor Jane Miligate of Toronto University, who is one of the leading worldauthorities on Scott and president of the Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Club,said the reinterpretation offered not only academics and Scott aficionadosthe opportunity to read his books as he originally penned them, but also thewider public.Ms Millgate, who has catalogued 14,000 of Scott’s letters, said: “Byestablishing an accurate text and stripping the novels of their accretion of later introductions and annotations, David Hewitt and his team have enabledreaders in the twenty-first century to enjoy these wonderful books in awholly fresh way and to see what made them the first best-sellers in thehistory of the novel.” The extent of Scott’s own editing may have been as damaging to the overallwork as the printers’ errors, according to Dr lain Brown, principal curator of manuscripts at the National Library.He said: “The project is an attempt to give us a Scott text that we’ve neverseen before, and the purpose of it is to make Scott once again enjoyable andaccessible and fresh. “The task of editing came more naturally to Scott than the task of writing,and the irony was that Scott made himself unreadable to a later generationby the huge amount of editorial apparatus with which he surrounded histexts. He cocooned the text in these vast numbers of notes. “In a way, the brilliance and originality of the novels has almost been lostunder the weight of all this later interference, from which our ownpaperbacks have descended.” 
The Talisman is to be published alongside 17 other works, such as Ivanhoeand Heart of Midlothian, in the Edinburgh edition of the Waverley novels.The manuscript was gifted by Scott to a friend in 1831. Count OrloffDavidoff,who as an Edinburgh University medical student knew Scott, bought it atauction in 1868.It was added to the Russian national collection after the October revolutionin 1917 when the family was dispersed, some disappearing without trace.Scott (1771-1832) was arguably the first modern author and certainly thefirst to be publicised in a modern sense, with Archibald Constable, hispublisher, credited with inventing the process of literary hype.Academics say that, more importantly, Scott is credited with creating thehistorical novel, and it has been argued that it was he who first wovetogether all the elements of Scottish literary romanticism as a genre.The Talisman is set in the army that was led to the Crusades by Richard I of England.It chronicles the adventures of a poor but valiant Scottish knight, SirKenneth, who is caught up in the intrigues between Richard, the King of France, the Duke of Austria and the Knights Templar.However, Sir Kenneth is eventually discovered to be Prince David of Scotland.
Discovered differences
Manuscript -
it is better to submit to the assumption of England alittle longer.
Edition I
- Perhaps it is better to submit to the usurpation of England a littlelonger.
The change from assumption to usurpation is probably a misunderstanding.Scott uses the word in an older sense meaning haughtiness or pride.
- Our cousin Edith must learn how this vaunted night hathconducted himself.

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